Record Labels : Everything you need to know

What is a Record Label?

Record Label is actually the other name for Record Company. The word ‘ Label ‘ is a symbolic to the circular label which used to remain attached with the vintage vinyl records at its centre. If you’ve ever come across a vinyl record, you must have seen that the circular label at its centre comprises of the manufacturer’s name and other information. Well, Record Label or Record Companies have a very similar role. They are companies which manages the trademark for your Music. Truthfully this is an old definition of Record  Labels.

New Definition of Record Label

These days Record Labels serve almost everything to a Musician. Gone are the days when Record Label only meant trademark and copyright associated with the Music. Modern day Record Companies not just helps you with Trademarking of your song or music but also coordinates with production, helps in promotion and marketing of your Music as well as Manufacturing and Distribution too.

What is A&R? Full Form. How is it different from Record Label?

Hopefully, the definition of Record Label is now clear to you after reading the previous section. A&R or the full form of A&R which many people speculate about is Artists and Repertoire . Many Musicians joke that A&R stands for Attitude and Rejection, but well that’s not the correct full form. These firms sometime become a sub-section or sub-department under modern day Record Companies or Record Labels. While working Independently, their major concern is Talent Scouting and development of New Artists. They also strive to maintain contracts with Recording Artists and their Managers.

Various Departments of Record Labels :-

ART DEPARTMENT :- Mostly the design work is done by this department. Art work which goes with CD cover, advertisement and displays at various offline stores.

ARTIST DEPARTMENT or PRODUCT DEPARTMENT :- Artist Department is now known as Product Department as more and more Record Labels have started realising that the Artist are the Product which they promote. The departments major task is to integrate and plan out the image, branding and efforts required to establish the artist in front of the public.

BUSINESS AFFAIRS :- Typical finance and accounts related issues are sorted by Business Affairs Department. Tasks like Bookkeeping, Payroll, Human Resource and General Finance is taken care by the Business Affairs Department.

LEGAL DEPARTMENT :- One of the most important department for a Record Label Company after Publicity Department. The whole working of Record Labels are based on negotiations and legal contracts with the artists. The legal department helps to create the contract with the artist or musicians. Not only that, but in case of any legal lawsuit, the legal department is responsible to fight on behalf of the Record Label company.

MARKETING DEPARTMENT :- The overall marketing planning for the Sales, Promotional and Publicity Department is made by the Marketing Department. A complete plan for marketing is essential to keep track of activities and re-check at regular intervals if everything is still on track as per the marketing plan made by the Marketing Department.

NEW MEDIA :- Someone has to take care of the emerging technologies and opportunities to sustain in today’s competitive market. The New Media department is rarely found in a record label company. But if found, they are responsible to look out for new technologies, forums, social media or any other promotional and marketing channels through which artists can promote their work and create a brand awareness about themselves as well as the record label companies.

PROMOTION DEPARTMENT :- The promotion department has similar work as the publicity department except one major difference. Promotional department used promotional content, i.e., music audio or music video of the track and ties up with Radio Stations and Televisions and makes them play the same to spread awareness among the fans and users of the Record Label service.

PUBLICITY DEPARTMENT :- The main work of this department is to spread the word about the releasing album. They write articles and publishes digital content across various platform to ensure a buzz all around about the music.

SALES DEPARTMENT :- Majorly responsible to ensure that the finished product, i.e. music album reaches the shelves of major music stores. It works in coordination with Promotion and Publicity team to deliver efficient results .

Types of Record Labels

MAJOR RECORD LABELS :- Very few Record Labels in the World are actually ‘ Major Record Labels ‘ in its True Sense. Undoubtedly, those record labels offer deals to the world’s most successful musicians and artists. Sony and Universal Music Group are 2 of them.

INDIE RECORD LABELS :- It’s fine to call them the poor record labels. Music Industry and specifically the business around Record Label in itself is the biggest capital investing business across all domains. Data says, Labels spend as much as 15.6% of their revenue on artist development – a higher percentage than what technology, software, aerospace, healthcare and pharmaceutical industries spend on R&D.

IMPRINT :- When a label is simply a trademark or license, without any proper company infrastructure, yet has an independent identity, it is called an Imprint. Normally you’ll see such labels as a department in major record label companies when not in independent existence.

SUBLABEL :- Imprints existing under a record label company can be called as a sub label. It is partly independent yet inclusive under a major record label company. The primary purpose of sublabel is very similar to that of Imprint – Trademark and Licensing.

VANITY LABELS :- Vanity label is an interesting concept in which the vanity label camouflages as a label under the artists ownership but behind the screen is nothing but a record label – artist partnership.

INTERNET AND DIGITAL LABELS :- Also known as NetLabels, which started as a free website, now offers some serious competition to offline record labels. As suggested by the name Netlabels majorly deals with downloadable music but recently it has also ventured into the market of physical CDs which can be ordered Online using Internet.

OPEN – SOURCE LABELS :- The wave of Open Source Software and Open Source Programming language is the idea behind Open Source Labels. As suggested by the name, Open Source labels are the record labels for the modern day internet-savvy musicians

PUBLISHERS AS LABELS :- These are normal music publishing companies who ventured into the Record Labelling business expecting more profit. The work responsibilities of such labels are similar to that of any major or independent label in addition to their music publishing business.


1988 – 1999

  1. Warner Music Group
  2. EMI
  3. Sony Music
  4. BMG
  5. Universal Music Group
  6. Polygram

1999 – 2004

  1. Warner Music Group
  2. EMI
  3. Sony Music
  4. Universal Music Group ( Polygram absorbed into Universal Music Group )

2004 – 2012

  1. Warner Music Group
  2. EMI
  3. Universal Music Group
  4. Sony BMG ( Joint Venture of Sony and BMG )

2012 – Today

  1. Warner Music Group ( EMI’s Parlophone and EMI/Virgin Classics Label absorbed into Warner Music Group )
  2. Universal Music Group ( EMI’s Recorded Music division got absorbed into Universal Music Group )
  3. Sony Music ( EMI Music Publishing absorbed into Sony/ATV Music Publishing )

Typical Indie Label Contract – What it includes ?

First let’s talk about the types of record label deals you might get into :-

  1. A licensing deal for an album which is already recorded from your end.
  2. A licensing deal for an album plus a deal for a label to release more albums in future
  3. A deal for a Music Band or an Artist to record one or more albums in future which the label will release
  4. A licensing deal with ‘ First Refusal ‘ clause on one or more recordings to be held in future.

Now let’s talk about what can you expect in such contracts :-

  1. TERM – it refers to the timeframe the record label will hold the right over your album. Every label would like to have this right as long as possible to make more money. You should be the one to negotiate intelligently. It might be as short as couple of years to as long as forever. Ideally if you’re dealing with indie labels, they will keep it somewhere around 5 to 10 years.
  2. SELLING DESTINATION – This one is pretty understandable by the name itself. The company will try to restrict you from moving into deals with any other record label within its territory. So, a fair was is to ask the record label include some flexibility giving the liberty to the artist to seek licensing and distribution deals outside the territories of the record label. This way both Artist and Record Label can maximize their profit without affecting their relationship.
  3. FINANCIAL ADVANCES – Record Labels will and can promise an advance amount which they believe they can recoup from future sales. Make sure they aren’t exploiting you as an artist and neither getting exploited by you because if you strive to take more amount of money as advance this might even affect the promotional activities of your music which no artist would like to see.
  4. SPENDING CAPS – Ask the record to include a clause in the contract stating that the label will consult the band after spending X amount of money. This is necessary as we have seen many record labels complaining about running out of cash when it comes to the time of sharing the profit. Make sure you don’t face the same and include the clause.
  5. MAKING MONEY – In simple words, how much percentage of profit are they going to share with you? 50-50 or 60-40? This has nothing more to it but ensure that you are not exploiting the record label as it will have direct impact on the publicity and promotional activities of your albums.

Pros and Cons of Dealing with Major Record Labels


  1. Huge Initial Capital :- The biggest advantage to deal with Major Record Label is they almost never run out of money. Or even if they do, they don’t move into such zone so easily/quicky. With more money at hand major record label is going to promote you a lot which is exactly what you want to see as a Musician.
  2. Business Contacts :- Most major labels have established themselves after struggling for decades in the industry. This gives a huge advantage to such business over independent record label or any other newcomers as they have long term business contacts which makes it easier for your brand as a musician grow quickly with more chances of being a success.



  1. Too Many Musicians :- One of the major drawback from the point of view of a Musician is the number of artists signing up with major record labels. After fighting the never ending competition to get signed up with a major record label your struggle doesn’t ends there. Why? Because if 1 lakh singers are fighting to get signed up with the label, after getting signed up you will be in a group of 1000 singers who have fought those 1 lakh to get it. The only way to stick around with the record label is to get your Music sell at any cost.
  2. You are Best Today, Nobody Tomorrow :- Surviving the huge crowd of signed up musician is only possible if you have a big fan of your music in the company. But what if they drop out of the record label? That’s what exactly you can expect in today’s world were jobs don’t stay forever and people keep switching their companies.
  3. Artist Unfriendly Deals :- Major Record Labels already have lakhs and lakhs of artist wanting to move into a deal with them. What if you get a chance but the contract isn’t quite what you were looking for? Will you give it up after fighting it out with those crowd of Musicians? No, right? Well, that’s were few major record labels exploit musicians and it is really effortless for them these days.
  4. Employees ain’t Music Lovers :- And that is actually how many of these companies have evolved coping up with the competition they have faced along the way. You’re almost guaranteed to find people in your major record label who are working just for the sake of money. They don’t love music as people in independent record labels do and this might pull you down at many level practically or emotionally.

Pros and Cons of Dealing with Indie Record Labels


  1. Indie Record Labels Respect Your Music :- Because of having Freedom to choose with whom they want to work, the pressure of sacrificing your music inclination only for the sake of topping the charts is not much prevalent in Indie Record Label deals. Normally Indie Record labels will sign with only those artist they think are great at what they do and will help them to grow too. In other words, they are fan of your music and hence they want to sign-up with you. And fans mostly don’t want you to give up your unique style.
  2. Close Working Relationship :- Due to a small team in a indie record label and less crowd fighting to enter into a contract with them, Indie Record Labels are ideal candidates who would work for your music closely than you expect from a record label.
  3. Artist Friendly Contracts :- This one is quite obvious. With a shoestring budget, low popularity among artists and high competition or market barrier – Indie record labels are sure to offer their artist a much friendly contract as compared to major record labels. Also most indies won’t lock you into long – term multi-album contracts.


  1. Low Initial Capital :- This is the biggest advantage when you’re working with major record label and the biggest disadvantage when you’re working with indie record labels. This means indies don’t have much money to spend on promotional activities. Specifically talking about coverage on media channels and television.
  2. Poor Administrative Infrastructure :- Not every indie have a poor administrative infrastructure, yet labels which fail to survive have stated poor infrastructure as the biggest reason behind their failure.


Why Future of Indie Record Label is in Danger ?

You guessed it! Internet – the same thing which has helped musicians and artists to free themselves from the dependency over record labels. Indie Record Labels as we know rarely makes enough money to light up their office. Sometime such record labels can comprise of a proper infrastructure. Sometime it might not have more than 2-3 members behind the venture. Already indie record labels used to run at a very low profit margin, with the rise of internet and social media where musicians and artists can sell their music themselves with a better profit margin, indie record labels are almost about to shut down.

If you think that internet has hit only the small record labels, then you’re wrong. Big Music Record Label Companies have also been hit with the ever changing technological advancements all around the world. It is very difficult for any firm or company working in the Music Industry to decide which technology they should rely and invest on as the technology keeps evolving and changing with time very frequently.

As per few experts and including my own opinion, I believe that owning and utilising the user data would be a crucial parameter that will decide the existence or extinction of Record Companies. What do I mean by this? Digging deep into your customers preferences, finding out the most loyal customer and spying on their interaction and purchase behaviour. Communicating with them according to their favourite genre at individual level. Customizing everything with which Users interact as per their past behaviour.

You might contradict that I am favouring Data because your author is himself a passionate Data Scientist. And it’s okay, even I don’t consider myself to know everything J


List of Major Record Labels in India

Owning the name ‘ Major Record Label ‘ in itself is a great achievement for any company. Why? Record Label Business is one of those rarest sector which demands huge investment on Human Capital without even beginning with the production process. And yet as per the IFPI Global Music Report which came out last month, India is one of the top 3 countries which showed maximum growth in Music Industry. Other countries among the top 3 were China and Mexico. So, let’s look at the 15 Major Record Label Companies in India. Please note the sequence doesn’t denote the rank of the companies :-

  1. SaReGaMa India Limited
    Origin :- Indian
    Founded :- 13thAugust 1946
    Earlier Name :- The Gramophone Company of India
    Major Products :- Cassettes, CD, VCDs, DVDs, Music Videos, Digital Music
    HeadQuater :- Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, India
    Awards :- ITA Award for Best Thriller / Horror Serial
  2. TIPS Industries Limited
    Origin :- Indian
    Founded :- 1975
    USP :- Largest Corporate House for Music and Films in India. 1000 wholesales and 400,000 retailers
    Headquaters :- Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
    Awards :- IIFA Award for Best Movie
  3. Universal Music India
    Origin :- American
    Founded :- 1934 by Jimmy Lovine
    Headquaters :- Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
    Awards :- Latin Grammy Award for Best Singer – Songwriter Album
  4. Times Music
    Origin :- Indian ( Spiritual Music Genre )
    Founded :- 1938 with Times Group
    Headquaters :- Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
    Awards :- Indian Telly Award for Best News Channel of the Year – English
  5. T-Series Limited
    Origin :- Indian

Earlier Name :- Super Cassettes Industries Limited
Founded :- 1984 and first brand of Music came in 2009
Headquaters :- Darya Ganj, New Delhi, India
Awards :- FilmFare Awards

  1. Sony Music Entertainment India Pvt Ltd
    Origin :- Japanese
    Earlier Name :- American Record Corporation
    Founded :- 1929
    Headquaters :- Santacruz West, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
    Awards :- Latin Grammy Award for Best Cumbia/Vallenato Album
  2. HMV (His Master Voice ) Retail Limited
    Origin :- British
    Founded :- 20thJuly 1921
    Headquaters :- Berkshire, United Kingdom
    Awards :- MCV Awards
  3. Blue Frog Productions
    Origin :- Indian
    Founded :- 2010
    Headquaters :- Lower Parel, Mumbai, Maharashtra
  4. Music Today
    Origin :- Indian ( division of India Today )
    Founded :- 1990
    Headquaters :-Noida and Mumbai
  5. Phat Phish
    Origin :- Indian
    Founded :- 1997
    Headquaters :- Bandra, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
  6. Natraj Music Company
    Origin :- Indian
    Founded :- 2002 by Nitin Arora
    Headquaters :- Chandigarh, India
    Awards :- Government of Punjab
  7. JMD Telefilms Industries
    Origin :- Indian
    Founded :- 1984
    Headquaters :- Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
  8. Eros Entertainment
    Origin :- Indian
    Founded :-1977
    Headquaters :- Mumbai Maharashtra, India
    Awards :- IIFA Award for Best Movie and FilmFare Award for  Best Film, Apsara Award for Best Film
  9. Venus Worldwide Entertainment Pvt Ltd.
    Earlier Name :- Venus Records and Tapes Pvt Ltd.
    Origin :- Indian
    Founded :- 23rdSeptember 1988
    Headquaters :- Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
    Awards :- Best FilmFare Award for Best Actor in 2000 for the movie ‘Garam Masala’

Want to start a Record Label but low on Money?

Let me answer why did I add this section at the first place. With the evolution of StartUp storm throughout India, it is foolish to believe that 20% of my readers also would like to do a Start Up irrespective of the final fate of the same. Not just that, believe it or not, Musicians are always equivalent to Businessman. They too have a lot of handle just like normal businesses. The only difference being the product. For typical businesses the product is something or someone else, whereas for Musicians they are product for themselves.

Now, let’s move on to the topic of the segment :-

Record Label Business as I have repeatedly said needs huge investment and thus needs huge monetary capital. But what if you are short of money and still want to start a Record Label. Yes, it is still possible to cut down the prices if you follow the tips mentioned below :-

  1. Be realistic and get your hands dirty. Go all the way to reach your potential user and artists without being afraid of rejection
  2. You will definitely have to bear the cost of filing your Business Name and License. It is good to have a Lawyer by your side when you’re registering your Business with your partners. If you have managed to get investment from investors, go ahead and discuss everything with a lawyer before agreeing to the terms set by the investors. This might incur you some money but will save you from lot of hassle in the long run


  1. Write this statement in golden word – do not create contracts with artists all on your own . Better to have a regular lawyer who could help you with such deals as pitching and moving into such deals would be a day-to-day task for any record label.


  1. Spying on your audience behaviour can save you a ton while manufacturing. If your audience is more into digital music, wasting your money on physical products like CDs or Vinyl Record is meaningless. On the other hand if your audience loves physical products over digital, don’t go digital at all. Depend your decision on your customer behaviour.


  1. A huge amount of money as an investment goes into nurturing the promotional activities of Record Label Albums. It simply answers one big question, how are you going to spread the word about your artist? Now you have 2 options in such cases. Doing it all alone, or hiring a PR Agency. My advice, whether you do it on your own, in-house or hire a PR, try to compensate and save some money by initiating word of mouth inside your team.


  1. Oh shit, we forget the basic toolkit to embark on the entrepreneurship journey in today’s world – Website and Logo. If you are capable enough to handle this you’ll save some money. Else, you know how much a web developer and graphic designer charge. Good Luck with it.


5 Tips which worked for successful Indie Label Records

  1. Share Your Profits with Artist :- Go for a 50/50 profit share if possible. Why? Well Indie Music Record Labels are low on Money we all know it by now. Promising a 50% share lets artist work with you even though Indie Label Companies aren’t able to provide huge Advance in the start. This will attract more artist and will keep your indie record label move ahead
  2. Go for 360 – degree deals :- This is something almost everyone does so you must not be behind too. 360 degree deals simply means not just covering the music aspect of your artist but also allowing more flexibility in your contract by asking for merchandise sale and more.
  3. Don’t Complicate the Contract – Again, less complicated contracts attracts more Musicians to work with such indie record label. Think about it logically, you already are a small team being an Indie label, unnecessarily confusing the artist with long and complicated contracts will also complicate the relation and reputation of your company with the artists.
  4. Make Mutually Beneficial Deals – Many will tell you ‘ Business doesn’t works that way! ‘ But trust me it does work this way the best in the long run. Why? Because artists are going to speak about their experience with their fellow artist. Now it is upto you how you want to make them feel about you as this will have direct impact on your reputation as a record label
  5. Believe in your Artist’s Talent – You must believe in your artist’s talent. Although technically you may consider a talent as your product. But don’t make them feel you treat them as your asset. A healthy environment will make huge difference in the success and failure of the music your artist creates. So make sure the environment is healthy and positive, always.


A practical break down of cost to start a Record Label

ADVANCES :- Starting a record label is not different from investing in highly competitive marketplace. And to ensure that your artists which is actually your product too, gives their best out there in front of your audience, you must make sure that they get every facility to concentrate on their work without worrying about money. Advance payment serves the same purpose so that the artist can concentrate on writing, rehearsing, recording and performing music. Once the sale is up, you can get back your money from your customers using your product.

RECORDING COSTS :-  This expense is as old as the existence of Recording Labels or Recording Companies. Recording the Music in a Good Recording Studio, Mixing and Mastering, etc. costs some good amount of money which gives back in the long run during the sales

VIDEO RECORDING :- Ever since the evolution of video viewership across the globe specially around YouTube and Vimeo, good Video is a must if you want to have better impact with your signed artist or signed musician. It costs a bit more than recording the audio, but surely has a huge difference when it comes to impacting the viewers, users and customers.

TOUR EXPENSES :- Many Record Companies want their artist to break into the market as soon as possible. Committing to gigs and tours is one of the best was to achieve the same which comes with additional expenses from your end if you are trying to establish a Recording Label Company.

BRANDING AND MARKETING :- Recording Companies have to invest the biggest chuck of their initial capital towards Branding and Marketing. Although modern day record labels have shifted a huge amount of their marketing capital towards digital advertisement, needless to say that to have a proper impact promotion across other channels including Television, Radio and Broadcast. Major Recording Companies are almost 100 years old which gives them an extra advantage of long term relationship with some of the oldest and famous promotional channels across the world. Whereas while starting you won’t such privilege and thus sustaining in the business of Record Label is so difficult.

Role of Record Labels in Music Industry : What do they do?

Typically Record Labels move into contract with Artists to market their Music in return of some royalties on their selling price.  This might sound tempting but it ain’t that easy or comforting as it sounds. Most of the time landing a Contract with a Record Label in itself is a big deal. Even though you land one, not every record label is honest. History shows that there were numerous cases where the Artists had to go to the Court to opt out of the Contract at any cost for one reason or the other. Well that doesn’t mean you should be afraid of or stay away from Record Labels. Well that marks the start of my next section

How to choose a Record Label? What to look for in a Record Label ?

Don’t ever jump into a contract with a Record label without proper investigation. Music Industry is famous for Fraud  Record Labels and Tricky Contracts between Record Labels and Musicians. Musicians of any stature always wants to land a contract with a big Record Label which has nothing wrong about it. Trust but with Open Eyes. Most Musicians fall for the ‘ ADVANCE ’ amount paid by the Record Labels. They are like ‘ Advance! We are going to be rich ‘. But, not really. If it is an Indie label they will pay you less expected to major record labels. But in both cases, the advance is what the record labels believe they could sell after your album release. So be ready to wait for eternity to get any other amount before each and every sale of your album is done. Don’t fall for Advance. Use your brains, think logically.

How do Record Labels of the Future works?

Now you know about the responsibilities of Record Labels. But among all other responsibilities like trademarking, copyright filing, recruitment of new artist, music publishing, etc. – BRANDING and MARKETING is the biggest pain point as well as Asset for Record Label Companies to earn money. Starting as a Logo which no one cares about to becoming a household name, creating a successful Record Label company is not a joke. It is the very reason why so few Record Label companies which starts continues to persist.

ARTIST AS PRODUCTS :- The concept of Music-Bank is what defines Record Labels working model. They invest on Artists initially for their musical career and in return they ask for an equity share of their talent and skills. Although Musicians are not happy with such models always, yet until now we stick to such model when it comes to Recording Firms.

RECORD LABEL WORKS ON ITS BRAND :- Gone are the days when record label has to depend on the existing popularity of the Artist to market and sell their work. Today, they instead market themselves to achieve greater height by projecting them as a market leader in providing fresh and unique talent every now and then.

PRICE FLEXIBILITY :- With streaming services like Apple Music, Google Play Music, etc. Record labels earn more than 80% of their revenue which makes it easier for them to provide more profit share to their Artist Contract Paper.

CROSS-PROMOTIONAL :- Shocking? Well, forget about market competition and just focus on maximising your income. Cross – Promoting can serve as the best way to earn more for any Record Label. Getting such an opportunity, no one is ready to lose it.

IMPORTANCE OF RADIO :- The importance of Radio is still integral when it comes to Music Promotion. Record Label and Radio are two sides of the same coin. Hence to become a famous Record Label it is mandatory to have good relationship and contact with Radio Stations who will play your music. While Recording Labels make their money by selling albums, radio stations make money by broadcasting advertisements. It is a form of cross-promoting which helps Recording Label a lot in its revenue generation model. It is like if Record Labels can provide Radio Stations quality music which will get listeners, stations can sell airtime by broadcasting advertisements.


You might be thinking why on earth this article is targeted towards such a varied audience. To be specific, it is targeted towards 3 types of audience :- Musicians who are seeking the knowledge and information about record labels and how to move into a contract with the same, Music Loving People who love to learn more about the infrastructure and evolution of Music in our World and Would-be Musicpreneurs who aspire to set up their own music business with a shoestring budget. Trust me, it is not a mistake but an intentional approach to cater to my varied audience reading the post. Hopefully I have lived upto your expectation J If you have any queries, shoot me a comment below and I would try my level best to answer the same.

Stay Musical, Stay Hungry, Stay Alive

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